Given how badly Reading’s season has gone, it’s a little ironic to be finishing the campaign off with a trip to Luton Town. The Hatters are after all the polar opposite of the Royals: a well-run club that’s punching above its weight. Although it’s a surprise to see them in the top six at this stage, given they were in the third tier not all that long ago, it’s certainly a deserved status.
We spoke to Matt Storey to get more info on the Hatters’ season so far, the potential ramifications of being tonked 7-0 by Fulham (which we can of course relate to), an “absolutely horrific” injury crisis and how the game’ll go on Saturday.
Last time we spoke, you said the top six would be a “step too far” for (a then-midtable) Luton. What’s gone right since then?
We have just managed to put together the sort of run we had threatened to in the first half of this season but always fallen just short of doing. Between the midweek game at your place and the March international break, I think we had one midweek off. It was brutal. But despite the injuries, going away midweek to Stoke, Swansea, Coventry and more, the squad have just come together quite fantastically.
We have had games where you have looked at the side and not been able to work out how they’d line up. But then they have ground out results, kept clean sheets, put their bodies on the line. Basically every member of the squad has stepped up at one point or another to put a shift in.
I guess the dramatic win against Bournemouth just before we played you really lit the blue touch paper and gave the players even more belief. The drop-off from teams like QPR, Blackburn and West Brom has also helped.
Luton’s playoff push has taken neutrals by surprise - what’s it been like as a fan to witness firsthand?
Bloody fun! As I said, it’s been a relentless schedule but we just kept picking up results.
There have been a few pinch-yourself moments. We played away at Hull with four full-backs and a winger as our back five, won 3-1 and went third in the league. Walking out of that away end were Luton fans in almost disbelief, just looking at each other, going: ‘is this actually happening?’ It was brilliant.
The same came after the Easter weekend. We’d gone three games without a win, then ground one out against Forest on the Friday and did the same at Cardiff on a glorious Bank Holiday Monday. It was just a feeling of pure pride in your club walking out that ground.
I think that is probably the way to describe the feeling of Luton fans right now, just so proud of what we’re doing given where we have come from.
Luton joined Reading and Blackburn Rovers in the 7-0 club this week (commiserations). What was that like to be on the wrong end of, and are you expecting it to be a morale blow ahead of Saturday?
Well, we lost by the same score at Brentford in late 2019 so it isn’t a new feeling. It was not nice to be in the away end but there was no real anger. It was more a case of ‘OK, they are the best side in the league, they’ve had their day in the sun against our makeshift side and we move on’. Luckily for me, it’s a 20-minute bus ride home so I didn’t have a train journey to stew on it.
This squad are very good at following up their worst performances with a good one, so I don’t think it’ll be too much of a blow to our morale. At the end of the day, we’re facing a struggling side at home, needing a win to get to the play-offs. That is not a bad situation to be in.
How do things look on the injury front?
Absolutely horrific. It’s been bad for much of the past three months but it feels like it peaked when Allan Campbell got injured in Monday’s warm-up and Fred Onyedinma limped off after 30 minutes.
I think we have 11 first-team players either out or doubtful for Saturday. I reckon our side against Fulham had three first-choice players in it, with one of them playing out of position anyway. Nathan Jones has described our injury room as the Bermuda Triangle - once you go in, you never come out.
How do you expect Luton to line up?
Going on what Jones has said about injuries and snippets you hear elsewhere, something like this:
Ingram; Kioso, Burke, Lockyer, Naismith, Bell; Lansbury, Snodgrass, Clark; Cornick, Jerome
But three of them are probably doubtful.
Who are the key danger men Reading should be wary of on Saturday?
If Jordan Clark and Harry Cornick are fit to start and find their form straight away, they will both be key players. Cornick has raw pace on the break and has found his finishing boots this year with 11 goals. We are a better side when Clark is fit. He carries the ball in midfield and has the ability to pick out passes.
Don’t underestimate the veterans either. Cameron Jerome has proven a shrewd signing, while Robert Snodgrass has also had an impact in his short spell with his delivery from wide.
How do you see the game going and what will the score be?
I think we’ll win. There is a mentality in our squad that will get them over the line, even with a patched-up side. I’m going for a 2-0 victory with an early goal easing the nerves.